Sunday, August 08, 2004

liner notes

I had two music dreams about the boyfriend last night; in both dreams we were back living in the States. In the first dream he was called to do a Pink tour. He was getting ready to fly to L.A. to start rehearsals when I asked, "Don't you at least want to listen to her CD's to see what kind of music you'll be playing?"

The second dream involved a call to do a national tour with Joan and Melissa Rivers. We were like, "What the he....?!" We couldn't imagine what that would be like. Surely they didn't plan to sing...did they?! We thought there must be some kind of cheesy lounge singer opening act that necessitated the need for a band. But then it occurred to us that the boyfriend might have to sit at the back of the stage and fire off rimshots as Joan went through her act. It was beginning to sound like a nightmare. I had that dream right before I woke, and thinking of rimshots made me think of Steve Allen. I don't think I've posted the Steve Allen story here--can't remember, to be honest. Here it is...

Right before leaving Portland, boyfriend did a gig with Steve Allen. Steve was the headliner at an all-day Senior Expo at the Convention Center. Boyfriend used to play with a big band in Portland (among a zillion other gigs); he loved playing with that big band. Out of all the genres of music he plays (and he plays many), whenever someone asks him his favorite, he always responds, 'Big band." For him, it's like driving a big ol' musical locomotive--he loves it. (And this is a man who can lay down a funk groove like nobody's business and play the shit out of straight-ahead jazz, but he loves him some big band.)

The big band was scheduled to do sets before and after Steve Allen's set, so it was an all-day gig. The boyfriend and bass player were hired to back Steve Allen and his pianist. As preparation for Steve's gig, they were given a cassette of a show he had done at Jazz Alley in Seattle. The boyfriend was a bit stressed over the gig, because Steve Allen is known as an improviser, so he knew the set on the cassette might end up bearing no relation to the set he'd end up doing in Portland. And boyfriend would be pulling double duty--he'd not only be playing the songs, he'd also be expected to play rimshots at the appropriate comedic moments.

The gig was on a Saturday and I went because I wanted to take some pictures. It's not every day that you get to play with a show business legend, and I wanted to capture the moment. For all you young'uns out there, Steve Allen was an innovator. He invented "The Tonight Show." Those of us of a certain generation think of Jay Leno as an upstart (even though he might be older than some of us), because we grew up watching Johnny Carson. But before Johnny there was Jack Paar...and before Jack there was Steve. Steve invented the show and its format and is often credited for having first used what are now considered talk show staples: a live band, celebrity interviews, man-on-the-street interviews, reading headlines, etc. He was also a prolific composer and wrote literally thousands of songs.

So the big band did a set, then there was a brief intermission during which Steve's pianist briefly informed the boyfriend and bass player what tunes they might do. The set went well, the seniors loved it and there were moments during the set when Steve looked over at the boyfriend and gave him a smile (after a rimshot) or laughed and said, "That's right, drummer!" He didn't even know the boyfriend's name because neither he nor the bass player had been introduced to Steve before taking the stage.

There was another brief intermission after Steve's set. There were some food kiosks at the back of the exposition hall. I ran to one to grab a couple of slizes of pizza so the boyfriend could eat something (since there was no food provided backstage, even though it was an all-day gig). We were standing backstage, wolfing down the pizza, when one of the stage hands tugged on the sleeve of boyfriend's sport coat and said, "Steve Allen wants to meet the drummer." So we went to the little curtained-off area serving as a dressing room and introduced ourselves. He asked the boyfriend where he was from (Portland), what his musical background was and if he had a business card. He gave Steve his business card and they chatted for a few minutes. We asked if we might have a photo; he said, of course. The photo I took of the two of them sits atop our stereo as I write this.

Eight months later (we were in the tropics by then), Steve died at the age of 78. Some of the obituaries I read mentioned that he was obsessive about recording the details of his life. As we left the dressing room that day, we heard him dictating into his cassette recorder the details of the moment: where he was, the gig he had just played...and then we heard him say, "Remember this drummer" followed by the boyfriend's name, address and phone number. He touched our lives in the sweetest way that day; it was nice to know that the boyfriend had touched his, no matter how briefly.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow--- if that doesn't tell the boyfriend he's got the mojo! He has got the MOJO! I think good things are going to happen for you guys when you get back stateside--- but enjoy your time in the blue blue place cause it's filling you up with good stuff for sure. Hope you are doing well-- bluepoppy

5:57 PM  

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